#23 Mohammed Khairul Islam

Tokyo Interview

I'm really happy to see you.

May 9 (Sat), 2009

#23 Mohammed Khairul Islam

Trading company CEO
(He's been in Japan since 2001)

"I'll never give up
my dream
for the rest of my life."

I introduce you to a hot-blooded man from Bangladesh. Mohammed Khairul Islam is running various kinds of businesses such as exporting used cars. When I talked to him over the phone for the first time, I felt that he would be a gentle guy.
But when I met him in person, he talked passionately, often flinging up his arms. He is like a ball of energy or of intellectual curiosity.
However he is far from a big talker. "If you don't finish work at hand, you'll never be able to make your dream a reality." This is his theory. When he came to Japan, his starting point for his career was a wash place of a sushi restaurant. He never cowboyed. He finished washing dishes quicker than other workers and he learned preparation by making use of the extra time.
He has both wisdom and passion and continuously reinvents himself to higher and higher levels. The following is the story of his company founding in Japan.

*Interview at LuLu Co. Ltd.(Nakano-ku, Tokyo)

Longing for Japan.

When I was a university student in Bangladesh, I was doing my own business. I was importing Japanese used-cars and running a drug store. It was when I was 20 or 21 years old.
My business went well and I thought that I would be more rich and be able to learn more if I went to Japan.
When I was there, I thought that Japanese were smart and could do anything. Most of the things that were sold in Bangladesh were made in Japan. Also every high-quality product was Japanese-made. Moreover I loved Japanese cars so I decided to go to Japan.

No room to live.

I came here on April 13, 2001 on a student visa. I studied Japanese at a language school for two years. Then I entered a computer school and learned there for another two years.
The first two years, I had no room to live. I had no Japanese guarantor at all. Actually
I have two brothers who live in Tokyo but since they are foreigners here, they couldn't be my guarantors. So I stayed at my brother's office. He came here in 1988 and exported Japanese used cars to Bangladesh. I slept after workers were gone and left there before they started to work. I did that for two years. I used a coin shower instead of having a bath.
I went to school and worked until midnight everyday. I worked at a sushi restaurant which my brother introduced to me. Also I worked at an all-you-can-eat beef barbecue restaurant and an Italian restaurant.

I cried when I talked to my brother.

After I graduated a school, I entered my brother's trading company. Then I opened the Indian cuisine restaurant. It was easier for company workers to open restaurants than sole proprietors.
However I was thinking big so I talked to my brother. I said to him, "As long as I run a curry shop, I won't be able to expand my business. So I want to be on my own." We talked about whether I would hand over the restaurant to my brother or I would take control of it when I was leaving his company. He ended up getting business rights to the restaurant and I left there.
But I had little money and no job after that. So I had a tough time because I had to pay for meals, room, mobile phone and so on. Everything was expensive in Japan.
I was wondering what to do and I made a phone call to another one of my brothers who was living in Holland. He became successful in a curry restaurant business there. I cried when I talked to him over the phone. He considered my circumstances and flew here. He gave me some money; enough to live at the moment. I travelled all over Japan with him for two weeks and I snapped out of my worries.

Seeking for an investor.

Then he suggested me starting a business on my own. He said that he wouldn't stake me even though he had money. Also he asked me to show him what I wanted to do and what I could. That means he wanted my business plan. I prepared it and was going to start my business. But I didn't have enough money to do it.
I tried to get in touch with the president of the trading company who often came to an Indian restaurant which I used to manage. He is Japanese and has been managing a trading company which deals with watches, precious metals and so on. His business card was at that restaurant. I had left there before so I didn't want to step in there until I attained some success. So I didn't go there.
I thought about how to see him and I waited for him near the restaurant every single day. But I couldn't see him. Then I remembered where his office was and I went there. I sought it thoroughly but I couldn't find it. Actually his office wasn't that area.

Start-up in Japan.

I gave up trying to seeing him but I had to drive myself forward. So I borrowed money from a building owner. He is a Bangadeshi and he provided us with a place for the restaurant. Also he was a franchise holder of the Japanese-style pub (izakaya) chain. We helped each other. I borrowed 300,000 yen (approximately US$3,000) from him and I established my own company called "LuLu Co. Ltd." at last.
I burned the money which I borrowed. Moreover I had no clients. So first of all, I started a recycle/room cleaning service. Customers of the Indian restaurant introduced me to many clients. They helped me a lot. In addition, I cooked curried rice dishes and sold them at flea markets. Sometimes I helped my sponsor's pub with cooking meals.

Long-awaited man.

I ran across the above-referenced trading company president. I was looking for him desperately and he told me that he was looking for me, too.
I made a phone call to him and he asked me to come to his company immediately. I went there and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said that I wanted to do any good thing. He suggested me coming to his company everyday and find something that would give me a clue.
I had my eyes on watches which his company dealt with. They were mainly made in China but I offered him to make trays which load those watches in Bangladesh. I also tried to make other tools for watch display.
However I went wrong. A factory in Bangladesh didn't have the technological skills to make them precisely. I told him that it wouldn't be easy to make something in Bangladesh yet.
Then I said that I wanted to do car exporting business. I wanted to start it earlier but I didn't have enough cash. However he offered me contributions.
I bought some used Japanese cars and sold them to my brother in Bangladesh because he had many clients. And I sold them to my uncle who managed a car dealer there. Then I obtained a profit.

Dollar crash.

We turned a profit until November 2008. But US dollar had a great fall and we hemorrhaged. I usually buy cars at auctions. If I bought 10 cars for 12,000,000 yen (US$120,000) and each car should be 1,200,000 yen (US$12,000). It was too expensive for people to buy so I had to sell it for 900,000 yen (US$9,000). So the car business became completely unprofitable.
Therefore we stopped doing it for now and we focus on recycle/cleaning service. In addition, we package watches which my sponsor deals with.
I do various things so I get much money more than other Japanese corporate employees. I would do another thing if this business is held up. I'm very flexible. I will never give up my dreams for the rest of my life. I'm really happy to have something to do. I like to do something without stopping.
But I have done many kinds of things so I don't have a great talent for one thing. I feel I'm halfway done with everything. I want to bring used car dealing into the heart of my business but I cannot do that because of the world recession. I have to do other things.
However I don't do things only for money. I want to gain experiences. And it's profitable for other people if I do various things. But therefore I feel that I don't have my core stuff.

Human relationships are much more important than immediate profit.

It's very hard for Bangladeshi people to have longitudinal perspective because of poverty. But I think human relationships are much more important than immediate profit or language skills. Because other people hold me in high regard if I give them lots of attention. I care about him/her even if he/she doesn't cherish a relationship with me.
As for my business, It's much more important to see the president of Toyota than to study Chinese characters. Actually the knowledge of Chinese characters is necessary for my daily work but I can ask a Japanese person to check what I wrote.
I say again that a human relationship is the most important thing for business. I feel I can do my business because people support me. If I forget that, my business will be met with a setback.

I want to establish an aid project in Bangladesh.

Now it's difficult for us to be rich. Times have changed. We have nothing to make or invent here in Japan. There is much possibility in Bangladesh because there are no industries and it still has room for development.
So I want to learn goodness in Japan and use it in Bangladesh. I want to learn earnestness from Japanese people and help the needy and elderly there.
Also I want to open a clean vegetable store like a Japanese one in Bangladesh. I would bring vegetables which are made in rural areas and sell them in Dacca, the capital of Bangladesh. Then I would return profits to farmers and support Bangladeshi agriculture. I want to do such a thing.
If I gain profits, I would give them to people even if I fall into poverty. I've been such a kind of person since I was a kid. I always shared my snacks with my classmates. So I won't be a millionaire.
I don't care if I volunteer. But in order to do that, I need money. Because what hungry people want are meals, not advice. I need money to get supplies for them.
I don't care if I cannot gain any profit from that project. Mother Theresa had never thought that she wanted to be rich at all. But enterprises contributed a large amount of money to her. I also will eat simple meals if I become poor. I always think that way.

His family members joined us.
The interview became enjoyable round-table talk.
*Photos by Junzo Matsushita

What is Tokyo to you?

The city where I want to take Bangladesh statespersons.

My most favorite thing in Tokyo is that people have caring feelings.
When I take a train, I see people give seats to each other. Almost no trouble,
no hijackings and no arguing. Police officers are very kind to me. These are big differences from Bangladesh, America and Europe.
Young and old run to their workplaces at 8:30AM. Every time I see that, I realize there are places to work in Tokyo.

And I myself have them so I'm really happy.

Khairul's Link

LuLu Co. Ltd. (Japanese): http://lulu-japan.com/

*If you want to know about her restaurant, click here!

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